Teaching old dogs new clicks

The internet is no longer just the playground of the young. As Dick Lumsden discovers, its popularity is soaring with the older age groups. I read an amazing statistic last week. Apparently 4.7 million people over the age of 50 in the UK are now members of at least one online social networking siteJust think about that for a second.


I read an amazing statistic last week.

Apparently 4.7 million people over the age of 50 in the UK are now members of at least one online social networking site

Just think about that for a second.... we know the over 50s population is rising all the time - there are now 21 million of us in the country - so that means that almost one in every four are dipping in and out of social networking sites when they use the internet.

Not so very long ago, if you wanted to meet your friends for a drink, or a meal, or a visit to the cinema, you'd have to arrange it face to face.

When you told someone you'd meet them somewhere at three o'clock, that's what you did. You didn't send an email to confirm, you didn't text to say you were on your way - you just went, and somehow you met up. The only Twittering you'd hear came from the birds in the trees.

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Sometimes, one of your friends would bring someone else along. Or you'd meet a stranger who was waiting for someone else and get talking. That, in its purest form, was social networking.

But it's all changed now. Now you can go online, where you can amass “friends” without ever having to meet them, you can tell every single one of them what you have been up to at the same time - without ever talking to any of them.

The most popular site by far is Facebook, but if you go online and look hard enough you can find some hidden gems - and a lot of absolute rubbish to be fair.

One site where hundreds and hundreds of addresses have been helpfully collected and listed might be a useful starting point for anyone who fancies a bit of a browse. Put the kettle on and go to www.silversurfers.net if you have a couple of hours to spare.

I'm sure there are some people who will look at online social networking and decry it as yet another sign that traditional values are slipping, that the art of conversation is dying and that somehow, somewhere, another bit of our social fabric has been torn away.

But I don't buy into that argument.

There are now so many people over the age of 50 that the differences between us all are huge. Sex, race, religion, politics, financial status, where we live, working or retired, married or single, parents or grandparents....there are just so many things which set us apart, that it is good to know there are new things coming along to unite us.

The internet is one of those things.

For those who are lonely, housebound, or live far away from friends and family, it can be a lifeline. For others, it has become a new way of communicating - a new form of entertainment and a new way of shopping.

The number of over 50s using the internet is increasing far faster than the number of under 50s and, more specifically, the over 65s are the fastest growing group of all.

According to the Office for National Statistics, between 2006 and 2008 there was a 72% increase in the number of over 65s using the internet. And in the same period, the percentage of over 65s shopping online grew by more than 110%.

This trend is likely to continue for years to come as those of us in work now, and who use the internet regularly, retire and continue to use it to keep in touch with friends, do our shopping or catch up on world news. (News sites and weather sites are apparently by far the most popular.....although in America, more than 21% of the 68 million search engine requests for pornography PER DAY come from the over 50s...but I'm sure we're far more conservative in Britain!)

I did a bit more digging last week and discovered another survey which compared internet use in the UK, Belgium and Holland. The combined population of all three countries is 88 million - of which 31 million are over 50 and, of them, 18 million are regular internet users.

It's not too much of a stretch to believe that with 18 million of us online, we are going to spend a fair bit of cash buying everything from cinema tickets to holidays and everything in between.

But here's the kicker....the final survey I stumbled across was from the European Interactive Advertising Association. They asked a sample of big well-known brands in many different sectors, how they saw their online advertising spend going in the next year.

Virtually every one said they would be increasing their spend - but only 6% said they would be targeting the over 50 market. 78% said they would be targeting the 16-44 year olds -a smaller number of people and with less disposable income. That's just daft.

Proof, yet again, that advertisers continue to ignore the weight of evidence and don't tailor campaigns to appeal to the people who are the most seasoned and regular consumers and who are prepared to buy products if they see or hear informative and entertaining advertising.

I may be missing something....but with social networking rising in popularity with older web users, and social networking sites relying on advertising to survive...maybe these guys should talk!

Dick Lumsden is Managing Director of Senioragency, one of the few companies specialising in marketing and advertising to the 50+ group. If you have any views, or are over 50 and would like to take part in occasional consumer research, please contact him on dlumsden@senioragency.co.uk or visit his website at www.senioragency.co.uk